"Memories light the corners of my mind"
Valentine’s week is upon us and naturally, we will reflect on love– all the beauty, pain, complexity and cliches that come with it. A poetically expressed love song will be the method of choice many of us take to emotions and memories of romance and heartbreak. “The Way We Were” is one of those gorgeously melancholic Barbra Streisand love songs most of us can connect with on some level.
"Misty watercolor memories of the way we were"
I discovered this jewel of a song last week while perusing the website of the beautifully talented mezzo-soprano, Mikki Sodergren. Her performance of the ballad with the The Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra began to play and I was immediately transported. Sodergren’s mellifluous voice, coated with strings and those vivid lyrics brought me to tears.
"Scattered pictures of the smiles we left behind smiles we gave to one another for the way we were"
The song would be Barbra Streisand’s 1973 hit single, written for her leading role in a new movie and upcoming album, both titled The Way We Were. Streisand and Robert Redford star in the movie portraying a couple deeply in love, trying to make their relationship work despite their fundamental differences. Needless to say, their relationship does not work out and when meeting again years after their separation, they recollect on the fond memories they shared while this nostalgic melody sets the scene.
"Can it be that it was all so simple then, or has time rewritten every line?"
Super-couple lyricists, Alan and Marilyn Bergman, wrote “The Way We Were” (“The Windmills Of Your Mind” and “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” among my other favorite works of theirs). Streisand originally wanted the song to be in a minor key, but composer, Marvin Hamlisch, made the decision to make it major so as not to reveal the lyrics too soon. An effective, artistic choice, in my humble opinion, as I feel the contrast is a more honest telling of the song.
"If we had the chance to do it all again tell me, would we? Could we?"
Streisand (“Babs” if you will) presented this song to the world with her signature expressive flair, making it an instant classic and her first song to top the charts at #1. “The Way We Were” won the the Academy Award for Best Song in 1974, and the Grammy for Song Of The Year in 1974. The song would be featured in several movies and TV shows, most notably in the 1988 movie Big, where Tom Hanks sang a few lines to his mom to convince her that he is her son.
"Memories may be beautiful, and yet what's to painful to remember we simply choose to forget"
While drafting this post today I listened to various covers of “The Way We Were” and just when I thought this song couldn’t get any better, I came across the most poignant rendition by the “Empress of Soul” herself, Gladys Knight. She chose to start the song with spoken poetry from the stirring piece “Try To Remember” from the 1960 musical The Fantasticks, where it was initially sung by Jerry Orbach. It would be a crime to not also mention Beyoncé’s epic tribute to the song at the 2008 Kennedy Center Honors Barbra Streisand concert, where she gave a performance nothing short of stunning.
"So it's the laughter we will remember whenever we remember the way we were."
I am amazed that I have not heard this song more in my life, especially considering that I grew up listening to the 70’s Saturday Night radio program religiously with my mother. “The Way We Were” is a gift that I am so grateful to have stumbled upon.